November 19, 2017

Is Pink Turkey Safe?

When you cook your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter turkey, you want to be sure it is properly cooked and safe to eat. Sometimes, when you slice into a turkey, the meat will appear pink. Since we are cautioned to cook poultry until no more pink is visible, juices run clear, and the meat is at least 165° F, what’s going on?

Thanksgiving turkeyThe USDA has prepared a fact sheet called “Is Pink Turkey Meat Safe?” Many people calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline with this problem.

Here’s the answer: the color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of safety. That’s why a food thermometer is always recommended. Turkey can still be pink even if it is properly cooked. Remember that smoked turkey is always pink.

Poultry is lighter in color than beef because it has much less myoglobin, the iron-rich protein that stores oxygen in muscle. As an animal ages, the myoglobin content decreases. The turkeys you buy are slaughtered at four to five months of age, so they don’t have a lot of myoglobin. But they do have some, mostly in the legs and thighs, which are exercised more than the breast and wings and need more oxygen.

There are several reasons why well done turkey meat is pink. First, some chemical changes occur during cooking that may leave meat pink even though it is cooked to a safe temperature. The natural presence of nitrites is another cause of pink meat. When raw turkey is stored at 40 degrees F, naturally occurring bacteria convert nitrate in the meat to nitrite. Since the turkeys are so young, their thinner skins let gases in the oven reach the flesh. Less fat in the skin can also allow gases to reach the meat, which can cause pink coloration. Finally, if you grill your turkey, the smoke from the grill can make a pink rim around the edges of the meat.

So as long as you use a food thermometer properly (and have a good, reliable, and accurate food thermometer), don’t worry about a pink tinge in your turkey. If you have questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854; it’s open Thanksgiving day from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm ET. And enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.

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